What To Do After Finding Out Your Child Has Autism
An autism diagnosis can be a challenging time for the entire family. Parents are faced with the uncertainties that come with it, young siblings may find it hard to understand what this means, and the diagnosed child himself or herself may have a tough time comprehending the implications of a diagnosis. While autism or ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is a lifelong condition, in most cases the symptoms and behaviors can be managed with help, so the person can lead a long and successful life. However, the initial emotions of receiving an autism diagnosis might be tough for most families to navigate. This article outlines a few things to keep in mind when faced with the initial diagnosis.
What Does a Diagnosis of Autism Mean?
A diagnosis of autism, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 (DSM), requires a child to have deficits in social communication and interaction as well as restricted, repetitive behaviors. Many children will have difficulties with social-emotional reciprocity, nonverbal communication behaviors, and making and maintaining relationships. Children will also have restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities. This can look like stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, needing consistency and routine, having ritualized behavior patterns, having limited interests that the child spends a lot of time and energy on, and being over or under-reactive to sensory input.
If you are looking for autism evaluations and diagnostic support in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, or Denver area, contact us by submitting a short form to schedule an evaluation today.
My Child Has Been Diagnosed with Autism – Now What?
The first thing to do when your child has an official autism diagnosis is to get help. Depending on your child’s age, therapy options will vary. For toddlers, early intervention services can create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This document will detail your child’s needs and what kind of interventions could help them. For children three and older, your home school district should do an evaluation to develop the Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and/or Individualized Education Program (IEP). These documents will be used in the school setting to ensure your child has the support they need to be successful and learn skills in their school environment.
READ MORE: Top Parent Concerns For Children With Autism & What You Can Do
Outside of local early intervention services and school services, there are a variety of outside providers that can help you and your child navigate the new diagnosis. For instance, children with autism can benefit from physical, occupational, speech, and applied behavior analysis therapy. Physical therapy can help your child with movement issues (like fine and gross motor skills), occupational therapy can help with sensory and fine motor concerns (especially those that impact daily living), and speech therapy can help with communication and social concerns. Applied behavior analysis can cover a wide variety of skills ranging from behavioral needs to communication skills to daily living skills.
READ MORE: What Is ABA Therapy & Is It Right for Your Child?
READ MORE: How to Implement Effective ABA Therapy Strategies at Home
Insurance coverage may be available for these services. Some states have grant funding available to apply for money to cover your child’s service needs. Finally, some states also have scholarship programs that can be accessed to provide therapy services. Your developmental pediatrician may also have recommendations for you regarding therapy services available in your area.
READ MORE: In-Network Insurance Plans at Behavioral Innovations
Help Your Child Thrive
Many children with autism thrive on structure. First, have a set schedule or routine for your child. Having regular times for meals, school, wake times, bedtimes, and appointments will help regulate your child. Try to avoid disrupting your routine if you can. You could use a written schedule or a calendar schedule to show your child when things are going to occur. If there will be a routine change, say a day off school or a vacation, prepare your child for it. Give them plenty of notice and mark the changes on your child’s calendar.
READ MORE: How Parents Can Help Their Child With Autism to Thrive
Consistency is Key
In addition to having a consistent routine, be consistent in other ways including the way you interact with your child and how you manage any challenging behaviors. For example, if your child uses an iPad or other speech-generating device to communicate at school, have your child use their iPad to communicate at home as well. This is a way to generalize their communication skills – you want your child to be able to communicate with a variety of people and in a variety of places. If you go out to the library with your child, make sure they bring their iPad with them to use to communicate in the community. The more your child practices their skills the more they will learn and retain.
READ MORE: Non-Speaking Autism: How to Improve Communication Skills in Children with ASD
READ MORE: Autism and Language Development: How Parents Can Help Their Children Communicate
Another way to help your child thrive is to make sure they maintain any skills they learn. If your child learns how to ask for help with something at school, learn how your child asked for help and expect the same response from them at home. This will help them both generalize and maintain what they have learned.
READ MORE: 7 Ways to Teach Independent Living Skills to Kids with Autism
Lastly, if your child has tantrums or other challenging behaviors, respond to your child in a consistent way when these behaviors occur. Some children may need help from an adult to calm down when they are upset while other children may need time and space to regulate themselves. Learn what your child needs and use those strategies consistently.
READ MORE: Concerned About Your Child's Behavior? Proven strategies that work
In addition to helping your child calm down when they are upset, consider the function of their behavior. Why do they behave in certain ways? What is the purpose of the behavior? The four functions of behavior that could be contributing to why your child acts a certain way include:
- Automatic reinforcement (a sensory issue)
- Attention (they get attention from a behavior)
- Access (they want an item or to be able to do an activity)
- Escape (they want to get away or out of doing something).
Consider the functions of behavior when managing your child’s behaviors.
Also, make sure other adults in your child’s life know how to respond to your child when they are upset as well as when they request something.
Another way to be consistent for your child is to have a private space for your child that is only theirs. This could be a section of the house or a specific area in their bedroom. This could be a spot your child goes to calm down or be alone.
Help Yourself Thrive
Now that you are a parent of a child with autism, you are likely to have more responsibilities than you had before from therapy appointments to meetings with your child’s school as well as implementing behavior and intervention plans to help your child improve their behaviors and skills at home. Make sure to take care of yourself, as well.
There are typically support groups for parents with children with autism. They can meet in person or online. Talking with your peers can be great for emotional support, especially after receiving an autism diagnosis for your child.
Typically, you can also find respite care for your child. This is similar to babysitting, where a qualified caregiver comes to watch and care for your child. This can give you a break from the added stress you have as a parent of a child with autism.
Counseling may also be beneficial for you as an individual, for your marriage, or for your family. This can help everyone talk about how they are feeling and how your child’s autism diagnosis has affected your family. It is important to have support to manage your child’s needs as well as to support your own and your family’s health and well-being.
READ MORE: Self-Care & Stress Management Tips for Parents of Children with Autism and Special Needs
You Can Do This!
While an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming, there are many therapy options to help your child and your family. Gather resources and do all you can to help your child early on. The more your child learns now, the more skills they will have when they are teenagers and adults. Consistency will make all the difference for your family. You might consider creating a support network to help you maintain that consistency for your child. Raising any child takes a village – add professionals to your village to care for your child with autism to help them thrive.
If you require autism evaluations and diagnostic assistance in the Houston, San Antonio, Austin, or Denver regions, please get in touch with us by filling out a brief form to schedule an evaluation promptly.
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